BRANDON NELSON MCCOY
A former Savannah music scene staple returns to The Sentient Bean stage Aug. 8.
Brandon Nelson McCoy, former frontman for the alt-country Sad Bastards and the all-acoustic Sad Bastard String Band, is coming back with a guitar, banjo and a solo set of his dark, country ballads. The former Armstrong student moved to Athens in 2011 to pursue his master's degree in English. He continues to play regularly in the Classic City in spite of the town's overflowing music scene. McCoy now writes songs and plays mandolin for Monkeygrass Jug Band, a collective of students and songwriters that formed in true string band fashion, on a front porch.
"The Monkeygrass Jug Band was bred out of afternoon porch sessions between Don Auber and I," McCoy explains. "Just two songwriters learning each other's songs and ready to hone the craft as it throws whatever punches it may."
McCoy's songs have the layered trademark of someone who spends a lot of time dealing with literature and language. He says the art and craft of the original song is what keeps the band performing in such a populated music scene.
"We've recorded a first record of sorts and played hours of sweaty nights paid in PBR and free shots of slightly-above-well whiskey," McCoy says. "However, the most important thing has been the need to write songs, to tell stories that align themselves within the great American folk tradition but also bring forth a bit of the anarchic sense of inspiration that gathers among strong but receptive personalities."
McCoy is leaving guitarist Don Auber and the rest of the Monkeygrassers in Athens for this trip, as he celebrates his recent graduation with a solo show and some relaxing days in his old college town. The good times will be flowing for the homecoming gig, as the troubadour has been missed and is very excited to return to the Bean. He says he can't wait to get back to where he learned to play.
"This show in Savannah is my first solo show in a long time and I'm damn excited to be playing at the Bean; in my years living in Savannah, I found such joy playing in front of people."
STEPH STEWART AND THE BOYFRIENDS
Chapel Hill's Steph Stewart and the Boyfriends will bring a unique brand of bluegrass-inspired Americana music to The Sentient Bean on Aug. 9.
The string band stands out among an ever-growing list of young bands putting their own spin on the traditional bluegrass instruments. Singer, songwriter and front woman Stephanie Stewart explains the band's departure from - and attachment to - tradition.
"Our instrumentation mirrors what one might expect in a bluegrass band, and folks at our shows have often referred to our music as 'bluegrass,' but we're definitely not a bluegrass band," she says. The Boyfriends' beautiful arrangements have the polished glow of a classical string ensemble, while holding true to folk music's birth in the blues. Stewart's powerful voice is the perfect accompaniment to the mix of styles.
She explains how they differentiate themselves from the traditional world of bluegrass music.
"I do think it's fair to say that bluegrass music influences our sound, but you can't play clawhammer banjo and call yourself bluegrass," Stewart says. "That's why I like the term Americana; it gives music like ours - rooted in folk, old-time, classic country and bluegrass - a home."
The band is touring the Southeast showcasing new tunes that are more collaborative efforts, as well as the Stewart-penned songs that made up the band's debut album, "Over the World Below."
The band will supplement the Lowcountry leg of the tour with a stop at Tybee Island Social Club on Aug. 8. Both The Sentient Bean and Social Club are known as safe havens for Americana and bluegrass music, and will once again put on shows featuring a youthful spin on the genres.
Stewart says it is a lot of fun to be a part of a growing form of music.
"It's exciting for us to be in the midst of an ever-changing genre. I find it refreshing that bluegrass is being revitalized and re-imagined by folks like the Punch Brothers and Steep Canyon Rangers, both with very different spins on the genre," she says.
"The founders of bluegrass - Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Ralph Stanley, etc - will always be influential, and I'm glad to see so many young musicians carrying on and also expanding this great tradition."